Last night, CP24 premiered a new show featuring TTC Chair Adam Giambrone talking about the transit system and fielding calls/texts/emails from viewers. Giambrone’s guest for the evening was Mitch Stambler, TTC’s Manager of Service Planning.
Their show, broadcast live from a streetcar looping via Queen, Spadina, College/Carlton and Parliament, touched on many issues but none of them deeply.
Right off the top, CP24’s Anne Rohmer asked about the pending fare increase. Giambrone replied that fares had to go up to maintain and improve service, but that he was concerned about the proposed jump in Metropass pricing, the fare that affects the majority of adult rides taken on the system. By now, they had reached Rohmer’s stop, and the rest of the evening was the Adam & Mitch Show.
A brief cutaway took us to Roncesvalles Division’s CIS control room, the location where all streetcar routes are managed. I was amused by a comment about how they short turn cars to ensure regular service on the trips back into town. This is precisely the sort of problem raised by a later caller, but the irony of that focus on the central part of lines was lost on all but the alert viewers. The quick tour also stopped off at Harvey Shops where the CLRV overhaul is in progress.
CP24 did their usual bit of playing over-the-top music for this segment. It may be their style, but it got in the way.
The first question from a caller concerned accessibility. This set the pattern for much of what would follow — an answer that really didn’t fully address the question. After a commercial break, the show returned to a different topic, but picked up on accessibility again eventually. We heard too much about how complicated it all is and not enough about when things would actually happen (not to mention the effect of recent capital budget cuts on the TTC’s plans).
Discussions of Metropasses (which celebrate their 30th birthday in May 2010) got lost answering a question that seemed to be about the availability of the VIP discount program for people who are not part of a large organization. We learned that the TTC will roll out 12 Presto! equipped subway stations soon, but that they’re also looking at using credit and debit cards as the “smart card” for the system.
One caller complained that his bus service, formerly every 11 minutes, now runs half-hourly. The obvious question not asked of the caller was “which route”, although my suspicion is that it would be something that was deeply cut after the Sheppard Subway opened. That question baffled the TTC, and shouldn’t have.
One caller wanted more revenue from advertising. There’s no easy way to say this: advertising represents about 1% of the total TTC revenue, and there is a point at which the subway stops looking like the TTC owns it and simply becomes a rampant extension of Dundas Square. A very good case could be made for getting rid of advertising on the TTC completely, but the TTC is desperate for every penny. This is a discussion worth having in the vein of “what do you want your city to look like”.
Bunching buses (seven in a row on Finch East) brought the usual discussion of how transit can’t work properly in mixed traffic. Oddly enough, this was for a bus route, rather than the usual victim of this argument, streetcars. Finch has very frequent service, and some bunching is inevitable. The real question is what the TTC does about it.
Someone wanted to know when the subway would come to Vaughan. In reply, we had a lot of talk about the Richmond Hill subway proposal, although the question was actually about the Spadina extension.
From southern Etobicoke, a caller complained about service on the Long Branch car west of Kipling (the last chance for a short turn before the end of the line). We heard about the Queen split trial and the usual handwringing about managing service, but nothing about policy issues such as service quality on the outer ends of lines.
A question about LED lighting for energy savings actually brought a useful reply. The benefit of LED lighting over modern, high-quality fluorescents is not large, and the bigger benefit of transit is to get people out of cars. However, this skated around the question of saving energy on TTC operations where it makes sense to do so, and ignored the question of the suitability of the LED lights now on trial at St. Andrew Station.
A former Metropass parking user complained about the increase in costs coupled with an ongoing problem of rubbish accumulation at Wilson Station. The answer was that riders shouldn’t have to subsidize people who park, but the question of cleanliness was completely ignored. Oddly enough, there are plans in the works to turn some of the subway parking lots (notably three of those at Wilson) over to Build Toronto for redevelopment, and the TTC will have the right to continue parking operations only until the end of 2010 if another use for the land is found. (Links to report and site list.)
One caller asked why his blind son could not use Wheel Trans to get to work. In what had to be the worst answer of the evening, we learned that Wheel Trans is for those who cannot use the conventional system. The answer completely missed the point that a blind person does not have a map of the city coded into his brain, and that he may have great difficulty trying to commute, especially to a new location. Just because he can walk doesn’t mean he can use the TTC.
Finally, the question of a timed transfer (say, two hours for one fare) brought the reply that it would cost $15-20-million in lost revenue that the TTC would prefer to devote to service. That’s an interesting answer because, like so many of the ridership growth initiatives, it’s not a vast amount of money. Would people pay a higher fare if, in return, they got a limited time pass?
Overall, the show felt a lot like the “public participation” we get from civic agencies. Answers don’t address questions asked, there’s always a reason not to do something, and there are too few cases where the public actually has a good idea.
On the technical side, the CP24 remote truck managed to stay in contact with the studio almost all of the time, with a bit of signal breakup near Parliament Street. (The show almost didn’t start because the link back to the studio was not working with only one minute to air time.) One major sound problem was the ever-present hum of a very noisy power inverter on the CLRV. This device changes the frequency of its hum while turn signals or four-way flashers are on, and this was quite noticeable during the show. Next time out, they need to find a quieter car.
I’ve been invited to be the guest for the November broadcast, and I hope we will be able to talk about transit policies and problems with more focus on rider concerns and what needs to be done to improve the system.